I BELIEVE

“Having your dreams spontaneously fulfilled is not a result of luck.  In fact, luck is a concept invented and used by those who have not yet discovered the incredible power of living in alignment with the soul, spirit and source. Once you realign with your source, you will find that you can spontaneously fulfill your desires and enjoy everyday miracles. There will never be a need to worry about when or if your dreams will come true if you hold the faith and trust that they will.”  Deepak Chopra

I first heard those words in 2012.  When change in my life was afoot but what I am actually doing today was not yet on the radar.  And although those words sounded promising and I wanted to believe them…I didn’t.

                                        ****************************

I’m a social media poster (talk about not seeing things coming…) and I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to post today to capture what this particular New Year’s Eve feels like.  

Maybe a quote.  Or an observation.

Then I woke up this morning and this is what came flying out….

First, I believe in signs.  Earlier this fall, I was meeting with someone to help me work on my Irish accent for acting class.  While waiting in a neighborhood Starbucks for a woman I had never met (generous people abound), in walked Julianna Margulies.

My first thought was—it’s a sign!  Okay, actually, that was my second thought. My real first thought was– wow, she’s tiny.

Several weeks later I had a most nourishing (in every way) lunch with two good friends I hadn’t seen in a while.  I left them to walk back home through Central Park and all of the sudden I realized I was walking with Woody Allen.  Well, not “with” him.  But right behind him and his wife.

My first thought was—it’s a sign! Okay, again, that was my second thought.  My real first thought was—wow, they’re still married.

And looking back I can point to all kinds of random events, coincidences, and run-ins that I now see as all leading me to exactly where I am today. And so these days I don’t let anything slip by without appreciating that it might be one of those things that are going to lead me to the next place.

As 2015 is about to start, I feel a sense of deep, deep gratitude. And calm…groundedness, for lack of a better word, that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before.  To the point where I didn’t even want to commit to any plans to celebrate.  My New Year’s Eve plans?  Yoga and a movie (Into the Woods!).

Something inside is telling me to let this one come in quietly.  And so i will.

Don’t get me wrong though.  This past year has not been a smooth ride. As a matter of fact, I would say that in August and September I was more anxious than I’ve ever been in my life.  Partly stemming from a lot of voices saying— oh, if you thought first year was rough, just wait… And unfortunately, I listened to that and then proceeded to freak out.  To the point where there were moments, albeit fleeting ones, where I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through second year.  Things peaked on my second week of vacation in August when—I got shingles (a very mild case–thank you for your concern).  I thought I had poison ivy–although I had no idea how I could have gotten poison ivy (I looked like I had been gardening in a bikini on my side–which I absolutely had not been doing). It never occurred to me that I could get shingles.  Oh yes, my doctor said.  I see college kids with it all the time. From stress.  

What?! But I meditate!  And do yoga! And ride my bicycle! And talk, laugh, cry…all with abandon!  Happily uncomfortable is how I described how I was feeling when people asked. 

And really? Stress? It’s not like I haven’t been under gobs of that before.

And then it sunk in.  This is not my life as I knew it.  I’ve stressed over grant application deadlines 1,000 times.  Tough conversations, rough meetings, big projects…par for the course.  But this business of acting? A new land.

And that’s how I learned that apparently, stress over new stuff is more stressful than stress over familiar stuff.  

But then things got rolling in the second year.  And, even though I still don’t always know what I’m doing, I don’t feel like I’m in a foreign land anymore.  I understand the language. And the landmarks look familiar. The words of first year that may have only made sense in theory then are now weaving their way through my soul and settling in. To how I think; how I work.  And the more this happens, the more confident I feel that it will happen again. And that if I do the work I need to do and then let it…it will keep happening.  

So, on this beautiful eve, I guess what I’m getting at is… what I’m trying to say is… that my sense of all of this is… that although I struggle to find the right words for it… and I don’t even understand how it’s all going to come together…

I believe.

                                      Happy New Year!!

LETTING THEM IN

Don’t fix. Feel.

This isn’t exactly the note Bruce gave me recently in class but it’s my boiled down version of it.  

Over the last few weeks I’ve been hyper-aware of this business of how I do or don’t let people and experiences in.  In my acting, movement, dance classes…and life.

Past work life returns.  Yesterday it was the memory of Ray.  I met him when I interviewed for the child life specialist position at NYUMC.  I was 22, he was 16.  They were going to be making English muffin pizzas in the playroom and I was left alone with Ray to get it started (a clever test).  Ray sat there guiding me through the cabinets and not missing any opportunities to make fun of me when I fumbled.  You’re not going to get this job, he teased.

I got the job and then got to know Ray.  He was a regular.  Known by all—staff, parents and kids.  He had all the social makings of a street thug.  And I think he aspired to be one—especially when some of the cooler kids were admitted at the same time.  But he was too gentle. Too silly.  Still too much of a little boy.

Three years after our first meeting, on my birthday, Ray died. Timing that was fitting.

One or two days before he died when I stopped by his room to check in, he asked if I would read something for him.  He asked me to give him his bible so he could find the passage.  He was weak and this alone took considerable effort.  He handed the bible back to me pointing to exactly where he wanted me to start.  And so I read….

O Lord, my God, by day I cry out;

at night I clamor in your presence.

Let my prayer come before you;

incline your ear to my call for help.

For my soul is surfeited with troubles;

and my life draws near to the netherworld.

I am numbered with those who go down into the pit;

I am a man without strength.

My couch is among the dead,

like the slain who lie in the grave,

Whom you remember no longer;

and who are cut off from your care.

You have plunged me into the bottom of the pit,

into the dark abyss.

Upon me your wrath lies heavy;

and with all your billows you overwhelm me.

You have taken my friends away from me;

you make me an abomination to them;

I am imprisoned and cannot escape.

My eyes grow dim through affliction;

Daily I call upon you, O Lord;

To you I stretch out my hands.

Will you work wonders for the dead?

Will the shades arise to give you thanks?

Do they declare your kindness in the grave,

your faithfulness among those who have perished?

Are your wonders made known in the darkness,

or your justice in the land of oblivion?

But I, O Lord, cry out to you;

with my morning prayer I wait upon you.

Why, O Lord, do you reject me;

why hide from me your face?

I am afflicted and in agony from my youth;

I am dazed with the burden of your dread.

Your furies have swept over me;

your terrors have cut me off.

They encompass me like water all the day;

On all sides they close in upon me.

Companion and neighbor you have taken away from me;

my only friend is darkness.


I think about this day and what I did with Ray in those moments. I can’t read this now, all these years later, without crying. I don’t know how I read it then but I did. With the composure he deserved.  My throat was so dry and tight by the time I finished that no words of my own could come out.  

If I really want to torture myself, I can look back on those moments and wish I had been able to say something.  Anything to comfort him.  But I choose instead to believe that what Ray needed was simply to be heard. And to not have his feelings of fear and rage diminished by a trite – it will be okay.  So I just took his hand and we sat in silence.

I let him in.  Then and now.  Maybe he’s back to remind me that I can.

He will forever be a gift.

FROM THE POEM THE SPLENDOR

This is an excerpt from a longer, beautiful poem by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

It just hits the spot of desire.  In love.  And art.

“To be named.
To be called by name,
to be looked for,
received,
cared for with infinite tenderness.
To be protected with the strength of everything
that is wild of mind and deep of courage bones.”


IN GRATITUDE

You know how the annual awards shows have In Memoriam?  When they take a break from proceedings to remember those who have died in the past year?  

Well, this isn’t that.  

But it’s sort of my version.  

From time to time I will use this space to thank people who have been so supportive and encouraging of this leap (which, honestly, is pretty much everyone).  

It is mostly due to my own limitations that everyone isn’t listed at once. But also because the list keeps growing.  

And maybe because it’s good to just stop the proceedings every once in a while and be grateful in a very specific way.

Here’s the start…..

Maricha Miles, Executive Director of Only Make Believe (www.onlymakebelieve.org – check it out!) and one of the first people I told, for immediately assuming success.

Nancy Hardart (aka Mom) for so many things I’m going to have to include her every time I do one of these lists.  This time….for agreeing not to envision me in any kind of safety net job.

Dennis Sklenar for leaving me a message from Warner Brothers Studios asking for a meeting with me and…well, Dennis. About a starring role with Hugh Jackman and Bette Midler (see what he did there?). 

JoEllen Zembruski-Ruple for being a “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” kind of friend.

Evrett James-Holder for so generously and beautifully reminding me that I made an impact.

Warren Kelley for all of the times he has said “of course you can and you will!”  And then for pointing me in the direction of Esper Studio.

Steven Katz for making me feel that, at least every time I’m with him, I can do no wrong.

Gus Hardart for not for a moment questioning the practicality of his little sister’s plan.

Shakisha Cox for being the backbone of the Therapeutic Recreation, Child Life & Creative Arts Therapies Department and one of the funniest storytellers ever.  And for giving me a classic Cox family story to use on an audition.

Sister Eleanor Carr (Aunt Elly, to me) who guessed what I was doing before I had the chance to tell her and then reveled in the adventure of it.

Many more to come…

Starlings in Winter

By Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers, 
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots 
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

SWITCH TO WATERPROOF MASCARA...AND OTHER LESSONS FROM ACTING SCHOOL

“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”  Mary Oliver

I hate to keep writing about all of the crying I’m doing but it seems to be an integral part of this process of developing the body and soul of an actress.  At least I hope so.  Otherwise, I’m merely unravelling and that would be a shame.  

Once again, it took me by surprise.  Although it unfolded differently this time.  Not at all as I described in Breath.  Not so much in the moment of impact but over the course of the week.  

And it wasn’t about the kids.  It was the parents.

Here’s how it went.

Bruce, our acting teacher, was showing how he would do that crouch-walk thing (you know what I mean, right?) behind his toddler son as he was taking his wobbly steps.  When his son would stop and turn around in that “look at me go!” moment…Bruce would bolt up and become the proud daddy his son was looking for. This demonstration was at once funny and very sweet.  A parent so in love with a child growing up and away.

Then in an instant (and a little disconcertingly), the whole thing turned heartbreaking.  My hospital days came flooding back and Bruce was now every parent I knew there.  Doing what every parent wants to do. Keep their children safe. Keep them from falling.  Keep them.

But those parents were in a system that worked against them—-disrupting their sleep, upending every routine, coming into their private space en masse, talking to and around them using words they didn’t fully comprehend…or, at times, want to.  And then inflicting pain on their children.  

We pushed them off-balance as they crouch-walked.  As they desperately tried to prevent the fall. 

Their vulnerability.  Their strength.  They were heroic.  I may not have always recognized that then.

I didn’t cry in that moment in class.  Just as quickly as the feelings rose, I pushed them down.  But clearly, not away.  They made their first appearance three days later at the end of a yoga class.   In Savasana—the last pose of the class.  The final relaxation.  Queue the tears.  Quietly though.  And subtly.  Just an introduction to what was to come.

For part two, flash forward to Sunday’s Mask class.  After an intense exercise we hadn’t done before, when told to stand absolutely still….whoa.  Tears.  Not so subtly.  I’m not going to lie—I felt a little self-conscious.  I was actually creating a puddle.  But this time I gave in.  I allowed them.  

By now, you might think I mustn’t have dealt with these emotions at the time in my work.  I did, I swear.  There were tears aplenty.   There were also lots of laughs.  Children have the most incredible way of still needing to have fun, be silly,  and even mischievous…sometimes at the darkest times.   

(There’s a life lesson there.)

When I wasn’t at work, I played.  And traveled—probably my biggest escape hatch.  I knew how lucky I was and I lived as fully as I knew how.

The thing is, there’s no way you can fully internalize the sorrow of that work and keep doing it.  I see that more clearly now.  As “in touch” as I like to think I was, I put up walls.  To survive.  

Now, in the pursuit of my dreams, those walls have to come down.  And as they do I will be reminded of the privilege I had, for that relatively brief time, to be let into the lives of those families.  

And to do my own best crouch-walk behind them.

Perfect Spring Fare

1. Take Central Park. 

2. Add a bicycle. 

3. Sprinkle in a touch of warmth. 

4. Medium heat for 60 minutes. 

5. Serve with a side of dogs romping off their leashes.

Bon appetit!

BREATH

This is stating the obvious, of course.  

The experiences from my work.  The short lives I became a part of and witnessed as they ended.  All of those little people I loved (and the big ones who came with them). They will forever be with me.  Individually and as a collective.  And they feed the soul of my current, evolving work.

Obvious.  Got it.  And yet, it takes me by surprise.

Today’s (2/13) Movement class exercise (a sort of crude breakdown of it, anyway):  

Get a partner.  

One will lie down the other will kneel at their side.  He said he would lie down first.  

They are instructed to close their eyes. 

After a moment, we, the kneelers, are instructed to put our hand on their diaphragm.  Then to close our eyes too.  

Then, picture it, we just sit with our hand resting on their diaphragm.  Feeling their breath. The rise and fall of it.  

There is nothing else.  No one else.  Just his breath in my hand.

And then this comes.

When someone is dying, what you watch is their breath.  The rise and fall of their chest.  

The rise.  The fall.  

Then the rise.  And fall.  

Maybe selfishly you feel relief at the rise.  There is still life there.  

Is there a chance they won’t die?

The rise.

Then it becomes almost painful to watch.  You know they need to go.

Maybe someone whispers to them.

The rise.

It’s just reflexive now.  Not life.  

The rise.  The fall.

Then stillness.

My hand is on his diaphragm.  His chest rises into it.  And it falls.  It rises.  It falls.  In a beautifully perfect rhythm.

My tears are quietly, freely flowing.  

All those losses.  And yet here, this life.

I am overwhelmed by the feeling of his breath.  The rise. The fall.  

The simplicity of it.  The miracle of it.  

Feeling the breath of someone I hardly know.  

Takes my breath away.

A Letter from Martha Graham

Bruce, our acting teacher at William Esper, read this to the class last night.  Beautiful.  And ultimately, I believe, a message for everyone.

A Letter to Agnes De Mille

There is a vitality,
a life force,
a quickening
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.

And If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.
The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine
how good it is
nor how valuable it is
nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.

Keep the channel open…
No artist is pleased…

There is no satisfaction whatever at anytime
There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction
a blessed unrest that keeps us marching
and makes “us” MORE alive than the others.

Martha Graham

Climb Every Mountain

Today class line-up is Dance from 10:30-12:30 and Alexander Technique from 1-4. 

Do you know the last time I took a dance class? 1996

Following your dreams sounds all good but the devil is in the details.

The Flip Side

Here’s what did it.

There’s a man who works for the parking garage next door to my office building who is always standing out front trying to wave cars into the lot (in any weather!). I have passed him every day as I run back and forth to the main hospital building. He’s always a bright spot—ready with a warm smile and a wave. Maybe an occasional hello and comment on the weather if there is a light to wait for.  But I don’t even know his name. 

This morning I realized I didn’t say goodbye to him.  And that was enough to bring the tears I have done such a good job holding back through all of the other goodbyes.

The feelings of joy, excitement and certainty are still there—not to worry.  But today I woke up feeling the loss.  The finality of my decision.  A momentary emptiness.  Loneliness.  Grief.  Already missing the place, routine, people, the daily banter and laughs, the challenges and mayhem.  The sense of purpose.  And the parking lot guy.

I like to reference that scene in the movie Parenthood where the grandmother is telling Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen about the way we all choose to live life either on a roller coaster or a carousel.  

I have chosen the roller coaster.  

And so, I’ll cry for a bit.

And then….onward.

The Backstory

In what is maybe not such a unique childhood fantasy, I wanted to be an actress.  My best roles and dramatic award speeches were performed in the bathtub.  I wasn’t one of those kids who sang and danced on the coffee table for company.  It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I was doing those speeches into my teens. But by then I had mastered the format.  I was going to have that audience in the palm of my hand.  I’d make them laugh, then cry…the speeches themselves would be award-worthy performances!

Grammar school plays and dance recitals fed these fantasies but the truth is I had no idea what it meant/took to be an actress.  Which became apparent when the stakes were raised in high school and I was easily intimidated by girls who had actually been working at this in a serious way.  

 I bowed out.  I didn’t have the passion.  The drive.  The guts.

By the time I got to college, I quickly became 100% focused on the Child Life track.  My career until today.  It wasn’t until I worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis that the acting urge even saw the light of day again. I will forever be grateful to those theater boys for seeing something in me that I had buried.

And yet….I did nothing.

Flash forward to the spring, 2008.  And an irregular mammogram.  Scan, wait, test, wait, biopsy, wait, wait, wait. During that time my thoughts ranged from –I’m not worried, there’s no way I have cancer– to –I should start organizing my life in case my body is riddled with cancer and I’m about to die. 

I wondered about regrets. 

I’ve lived a wonderfully full life so I didn’t have many. Just one, as a matter of fact. That I never pursued acting.  So when I was finally given the “all clear” I decided to find a place to study. Try googling “acting schools in NYC,” why don’t you. I was totally overwhelmed not to mention intimidated. I wasn’t telling too many people about this because I thought they’d laugh or try to discourage me. 

I took my first technique class at HB Studios with Joe Daly in January, 2009. Then onto scene study, also with Joe Daly. And then I followed Joe out to a new school, Working Actors Studio.  And along the way adding new friends in the form of fun, talented, inspiring classmates.  I don’t know if I would have continued if I hadn’t landed in such a supportive environment.

Then in December, 2010 I started singing…and in January 2011 went on my first (ever) audition.  What followed wasn’t anything on the agenda.

To blog or not to blog...

I’ll admit, I’m starting this with trepidation.  What makes me think I’m interesting enough to pull you away from all the other things you could be doing/reading/watching?  

I don’t have an answer to that.  

This blog is about about my life-leap. And taking leaps in general.  Going for it.  Following dreams. Risking everything because all of the sudden your heart’s message becomes stronger than the one coming from your head.  
 
I’m not here to give advice.  Although that might take some restraint because sometimes I think I’m wise.  
I also hope friends will join me as “guest hosts” and share their stories. This blog isn’t meant to be all me all the time.
Here we go….thanks for coming along.